note: This year marks the 5th anniversary of the death of George
Harrison. The following article originally appeared In Crapshoot!
in December of 2002.
All Things DO Pass
We were all instructed to make...out of whatever materials we
could scrounge up...any musical instrument we so desired. It was
an assignment for sixth grade science class. And as you probably
can guess...the vast majority of us...boys in particular...decided
we would build ourselves a guitar. The project was due early Monday
morning shortly after homeroom. Like most kids I procrastinated
until the weekend before because even though it was a far more
appealing assignment than most for school, the IDEA of making
a guitar certainly seemed more appealing than the chore itself.
But with the help of my father I assembled my "guitar"
out of an empty cigar box, an old broom handle, and some rubber
bands. I thought it looked pretty cool myself...even if it really
didn't sound like much of anything.
Easton Towne Center
* * * *
The annual Shadowbox Holiday Show is the troupe’s most popular…so
much so that the performance is presented almost everyday during
the month of December. I can’t help but think it’s
because of the music mostly. At least that’s my favorite
part. House band BillWho? is one of the best rock/pop outfits
in this city…perhaps the state. And they always seem to
play tunes that you don’t hear 500 times before December
10th. This year is no exception.
From Jennifer Hahn’s “Hounds of Winter” to Steve
Guyer’s “I Believe in Father Christmas” to the
ensemble piece “Children Go Where I Send Thee” you
will not hear more inspiring holiday music anywhere. BillWho’s
torrid rendition of “Christmas in Sarajevo” can give
the listener chills. Standing out is Christina Connor’s
“Backdoor Santa”. Not only does the blues infused
tune fit Christina’s vocal range perfectly, but her throaty,
growling interpretation is the best singing I’ve seen her
The show begins with the first of several monologues that run
through the course for the entire performance. Alternating between
brother Michael (Jimmy Mak) and sister Jenny (Christina Connor)
each respectfully reading their Christmas lists to Santa. And
of course, brother and sister competitiveness soon creeps into
each monologue. This sketch weaves itself well into the fabric
of the show as a whole. Mr. Mak’s Michael has all the sweetness
(with underlying orneriness) to be believable. But Ms. Connor…who
usually portrays an almost bitter, combative older sister type
in most sketches…here is quieter…more demure…which
makes the running bit…well…charming. The softness
Ms. Connor brings to the character is both endearing and real.
“Figgy Pudding: A Choral Disasterpiece” follows the
first Santa letter. Conductor Julie Klein tries…without
success…to maintain control over this anarchistic choir
that keeps insisting on “figgy pudding” and do not
keep silent until they get some. The playful interaction between
Ms. Klein and her rambunctious singers makes for one the most
creative, refreshing sketches I’ve seen in a long while.
The annual hilarity of Jimmy Mak’s Dasher is here again.
And this year’s “Dasher – Flying High”
might be the best version yet. Segueing into Amy Lay’s always
amusing “Shannon’s Movie Reviews – A Christmas
Story” the first half of Holiday Hoopla XV charms
the pants off of the audience. I felt all warm and fuzzy…Christmassy
Then comes the video Crouching Santa, Hidden Reindeer.
While I do not have a problem with dark humor…even at Christmas
time…seeing a ninja Santa rip out a guy’s heart while
it’s still beating…when it’s immediately followed
by “Dr. Mystery Saves Christmas” where a Santa character
seems to get killed every five minutes…well…let’s
much for charming.
I can see merit in the disjointed, surreal approach of “Dr.
Mystery” with it’s sound effects, puppetry and general
mayhem. But this version meanders too much…existing only
on the surface. Without double entendre a boob joke is just a
Fortunately, the second half is strong enough to make one forget
the inadequacies of the ending of the first. Spoofing Charles
Dickens with “A Kid-mas Carol” the joyous, unbridled
antics of the class Christmas play is always a riotous romp. But
it’s the annual “Santa Babies” routine that
makes this years Hoopla memorable. Dixie (Julie Klein),
Dorothy (Stephanie Shull), Darlin (Katy Psenicka) and Daphne (Jennifer
Hahn on keyboards) strut the stage and dish out…some at
the expense of an audience “volunteer”…the bawdiest,
brashest, and brilliantly carnal Christmas tide anyone can imagine.
Lampooning Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” is funny
enough to bring down the house…close the show. But seeing
these talented ladies cavorting lustfully around the stage singing
“Santa’s Got Back” turns Sir Mix A Lot’s
over the top rap inside out, upside down and makes it their own.
The Santa Babies could eat Mr. Mix A Lot (or is it merely Mr.
A Lot?) for Christmas dinner and put what little remains on their
plates in a Snoop Doggie Bag.
Now I’m hungry. Figgy pudding anyone?
Holiday Hoopla XV will be presented at Shadowbox Cabaret
in Easton Towne Center until December 30th. For more information
go to www.shadowboxcabaret.com
Long Beach Arena
Dylan is an unpredictable performer; having seen him in concert
several times over the years, I try to come into one of his shows
ready for whatever it is he has to offer on that evening; I never
saw him during his fundamentalist Christian phase, but...you never
know. So, Bob-wise, I think I entered the Long Beach Arena in
the right frame of mind--new songs, old songs, cover songs, blues
songs, I was prepared to hear anything Dylan wanted to play.
on the other hand, now that caught me by surprise. I mean, I saw
a heavy metal triple bill here three years ago (Iron Maiden was
the headliner, but I was there for Motorhead) and it was nothing
like this. Christy and I were patted down four separate times
before entering the building, and despite the fact that we came
to the event with tickets already in hand, we had to wait in two
different lines to obtain wristbands that would allow us, respectively,
to stand on the floor and pay $10 for a draught beer (we attempted
to do the latter, but the venue made it so hard that we just saved
our pennies for the bar after). And just in case this wasn't already
overkill, there were the signs posted at the entrances warning
that there was to be "NO STAGE DIVING" and "NO
MOSHING." Damn. And we were really looking forward to some
good-old slam-dancing during "Like A Rolling Stone."
by John Bennett
Non-Fiction Theater of the Truly Mundane proudly presents:
Philly Phone Call
Valli and the Four Seasons
November 10, 2006
The Palace Theater
* * * * 1/2
very first riff I ever learned on the guitar was the bass line
from the Four Seasons “Walk Like a Man”. Before there
was the Beatles…before there was the Beach Boys…in
that fog that was the pre-British Invasion 1960’s there
was the Four Seasons. And these guys…fronted by falsetto-lead
singer Frankie Valli…sold almost as many records as both
those bands. Something like 25 Top 40 hits in a handful of years.
I certainly would not call the Four Season a rock and roll band.
Yet they dramatically bridged the gap between the 50’s doo-wop
era and the Beatles 60’s domination. Mr. Valli grew up a
poor boy from New Jersey in the shadow of Frank Sinatra. And while
Valli is no Sinatra…nor does he pretend to be…being
Frankie Valli makes him an icon in American popular music nonetheless.
His voice is immediately recognized for its uniqueness and familiarity
not unlike a Roy Orbison…or a Frank Sinatra.
Sure his show is Vegas like. He plays Vegas a lot. But then again…so
now do Prince…and the ghost of the Beatles. Fronting a 10-piece
band and 4 young, hired guns as the Seasons, Mr. Valli charmed
his way through 90 minutes of blissful four and five part harmonies.
His band was a crack outfit augmented by a horn section made up
of some of Columbus’s best homegrown jazz musicians.
with the title track from the movie “Grease”
Valli moved through the early part of his performance singing
mostly his solo hits. “My Eyes Adored You”, “I’ve
Got You Under My Skin” and “Can’t Take My Eyes
Off of You”. These are strong torch songs anyone would love
to hear in a small nightclub. And the fact that Frankie Valli’s
falsetto is some 70 or so years old I was simply amazed at the
strength and texture of his range. While on occasion the upper
register may have been helped along with backing vocals and/or
band arrangement, in the era of live lip syncing (disguised as
singing) and sampling, the purity and emotional tension of his
vocals was at times nothing short of breathtaking.
But is was the big hits from the Four Seasons that made the show
this evening…and I assume all evenings. Despite the fact
Mr. Valli’s falsetto is upfront, songs like “Sherry”,
“Stay”, “Rag Doll”…these are ensemble
pieces with harmonies as tight as any group I can think of. And
hearing them live was incredible. The ballad “Silence is
Golden” was angelic. “Big Girls Don’t Cry”,
“Bye, Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye)”, “Save It For
Me”, “Workin’ My Way Back to you Babe”
these songs of growing up poor…poor boy/rich girl…married
guy/single girl…these are the tunes that struck a chord
with me as a working class kid living outside of Cleveland in
the 50’s and 60’s. The pain and frustration sung with
the tight harmonies of the Four Season…this is what makes
these hits hold up even today. Especially “Dawn”…star
struck lovers who will never be together…it’s Shakespeare
when you think about it. But when they closed with “Walk
Like a Man”…when I heard that bass line going down…and
70 something Frankie Valli still doing it like he did some 40
years ago…I realized that no one else could possibly sing
these songs and do them justice. No one.
here for more information on Frankie Valli.
Naked Sunfish Holiday Tradition
Cheer from Aunt Edith
late Uncle Wes lived with my Aunt Edith for most of his adult
life...although I’m sure it seemed like an eternity to him.
He worked for the Bethlehem Steel Company in Baltimore for thirty
years until he retired. He worked the night shift getting off
around 7 a.m. when he would come home for dinner. In the summer
when it was warm...and Baltimore can get very, very humid...he
would go to a movie matinee in an air conditioned theater and
sleep. If you knew my Aunt Edith you would assume what I did...even
as a child...and that was that Uncle Wes worked nights and went
to matinees to get away from his wife. He never said much. He
was a slight, wiry man of few words. And the few words he almost
always uttered were, “For Chrissakes Edith! SHUDD UPP!!”
man was almost incidental by nature. One time...after he retired
and he and Aunt Edith moved back to the Cleveland area...my brothers
and I were helping him put a refrigerator in a backyard shed because
there was no room for it in the trailer they were moving into.
After much jostling my brothers and I closed the shed door and
thought we were finished. From her perch (as supervisor of course)
Aunt Edith looked at the three of us with bewilderment and asked,
“Where the HELL is Wes?” And after exchanging confused
glances we heard muffled sounds coming from behind the fridge
in the shed. “MMMPPPHH!!! Hey!! HHMMPPHHFFF!!!” We
quickly opened the shed door, moved aside the refrigerator and
liberated Uncle Wes. My brothers and I were all embarrassed and
each, in turn, apologized profusely for our insensitive behavior.
Aunt Edith broke into the humility with a shriek of, “What
the HELL were you doing in there?” Which prompted Uncle
Wes to...once again...chant his mantra. “For Chrissakes
Edith!! SHUDD UPP!!” They were quite the loving couple.
Their last name was Crabtree. I am not making this up.
soon was diagnosed with lung cancer. Thirty years in the steel
mills and 2 packs a day of Chesterfield non-filters caught up
with him. The last time I saw him he was lying on the couch in
their trailer smoking the aforementioned brand of cigarettes,
quite literally coughing his lungs out...or what was left of them.
“I TOLD him to quit those goddamned things years ago. “
Aunt Edith offered for my contemplation. To which Uncle Wes replied
sarcastically (yep, you guessed it) “Cough cough...For Chrissakes
HACK! HACK! Edith!!! SHUDD UPPP!!!” These were the final
words I heard my uncle ever say and we all joked at the funeral
that these very words were more than likely chiseled into his
few years after Wes passed, my brother and his new wife were having
their very first Christmas and invited everyone over...including
Aunt Edith. My parents were there along with my siblings and their
families. This included my brother Jim’s 9 year old adopted
son Matt. Matt the Brat was what my father called him. I thought
this surprisingly subtle for my Dad. If I knew where Matt is today...and
thank God I do not...I would have to guess some one killed him
or he’s in jail convicted of several murders. I honestly
don’t care so long as he’s nowhere near me. So Matt
the Brat is playing with one of the toys some one so graciously
gave him and he broke it. This kid could break anything he got
his hands on. But in a moment of diplomacy my father (affectionately
known as Snook) said, “They don’t make anything any
good any more!!” To which...in the spirit of the season
Aunt Edith quipped, “You’re right Snook!! Everything
IS SHIT!!!” Well...happy holidays to you too Aunt Edith.
Inside my head I distinctly heard a voice from my past reply,
“For Chrissakes Edith!! SHUDD UPPP!”
know...there are lots of reasons to go through life believing
that “everything is shit.” There are days when it
certainly seems true to me. I have my days when Sartre’s
“Hell is other people” could easily be the thought
of the day. But...unlike Aunt Edith...I don’t want to spend
a big chunk of my life living alone in a trailer. And when I think
of this particular Christmas it strikes me how most of them blur
into each other...with the exception of a few. And this is one
of them I distinctly remember. As much as family...and sometimes
even friends...can annoy a person...especially at this time of
year...I have come to realize that even some one like Aunt Edith
helped make me who I have become. I mean that in a positive way.
Imagine...Aunt Edith’s negativity was so over the top it
MADE me consider the positive. I have no idea how she became so
bitter. My father did shortly before he died also. Yet they both,
particularly Snook, had a positive influence. They were there.
Unlike today when some people are not.
holiday season...regardless of which one you celebrate...take
the time to savor those around you...even if they drive you nuts.
They may not...for whatever reason...be there next year. And in
some strange way, which will surprise you, their absence will
make you miss them. I guarantee it. (a possible exception to this
uplifting message might be Matt the Brat) And you might consider
that next year YOU might not be here. So I suppose my holiday
message may seem bittersweet to most...but that’s how I
see it. And if anyone feels the need to take issue with my views
then I encourage you to speak up LOUDLY...’cause I’ve
got one thing and one thing only to say to you.
note: Aunt Edith died a few tears ago. She was 90 years old. Her
neighbor called my Uncle Bruce and told him she had passed out
in her trailer. He went and got her up…asked if she was
alright and she said she was. He suggested she go to the hospital
to make sure everything was okay. She told him to go to hell and
get out of her house. He did just that…returning an hour
later and she was gone. Sad…surely. But she lived her last
day the way she lived every previous one. And despite her surliness
I will miss my Aunt Edith this Christmas. And I will remember
the one long ago when she informed us “Everything is shit!”
Rest in peace Aunt Edith. I can picture Jesus turning to her and
proclaiming, “Truly, truly I say unto you…For Wes’s
sake Edith…SHUDD UPPP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”